First Cup: Friday

  • Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times: "Making his season's first appearance after sitting out the first 11 games because of a hamstring injury, Pau Gasol took the Staples Center floor against the Chicago Bulls to an ovation that was less than standing. Folks cheered, but only slightly louder than if he'd been here all along. Gasol scored the game's first basket, and the clapping was polite. He scored the third and fourth points on free throws, and the yawns were evident. He then scored the second basket on a fast break layup placed in the rim with the gentleness of a guard, and finally there was some recognition that this was somebody special returning to something special. Those cheers lasted only as long as it took folks to serenade Kobe Bryant with, 'M-V-P.' Even now, it seems, folks just don't appreciate the value of a guy for whom those same letters could be chanted. ... When Gasol has been on the court for more than three minutes, the Lakers are 116-35. When he has not, they are 44-24."

  • Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald: "Doc Rivers didn’t want to get into a debate with hypothetical history. After finishing his chat with the media at large, he was asked directly if the Celtics would have won last year’s second-round playoff series against Orlando with Kevin Garnett in the lineup. 'I don’t even go down that road,' the coach said. 'I don’t.' Paul Pierce, on the other hand, had no qualms with making the trip. 'I believe it,' he said. 'I believe if we just had Leon (Powe) we would have. That’s just my belief.' Garnett’s knee injury spoke volumes, but the Celtics’ transgressions may have been louder. You may recall they blew a Game 6 lead. Or you could note the embarrassment of Game 7, when they entered the final period down just five and on a roll - and proceeded to surrender 11 straight points. On their own floor. Garnett remembers how he felt when he left the Garden that night. (Ticked),' he said. 'Probably like everybody else. Very (ticked).' "

  • Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel: "There is the natural inclination to label Dwight Howard as the spoiled superstar who is bucking authority and wrestling control of the team away from Orlando Magic coach Stan Van Gundy. It is what we are programmed to believe whenever we hear an NBA player complain about being criticized by his coach. And, admittedly, it was my initial reaction when I first read Brian Schmitz's Sentinel story about Dwight having a private meeting with Van Gundy and telling his coach, in effect, to stop being such a miserable human being. But the more I thought about it, the more I reached this conclusion. Dwight Howard is right. And Van Gundy knows it. Howard said Thursday Van Gundy spends too much time 'focusing so much on our mistakes. Instead of bringing each other down, we have to pull each other up.' Van Gundy agreed and admitted that his constant negativity has been 'draining the enthusiasm from his team.' Call me Pollyanna if you want, but I don't think this is such a bad thing. It's a positive. I give Howard and Van Gundy credit for handling this like a team -- a real team -- is supposed to handle it.' "

  • Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: "You agree with Dwyane Wade, that this is merely a shooting slump, because it is difficult to consider the alternative. You accept the fact that the Hawks are unique in their ability to 'build a wall' around Wade, because Atlanta's unique mix of length and athleticism hardly is the rule in the NBA. But you also have to consider the alternative. Or, to be more accurate, the alternatives. Put yourself in the shoes of opposing coaches. Do you really need to take measured steps in your closeouts on Quentin Richardson at the 3-point line, when he has not attempted a single foul shot all season, despite starting every game? Do you have to cover the lane when Mario Chalmers comes off the pick-and-roll, considering how rarely he attacks in the paint? Do you need to double-team Jermaine O'Neal, when the overwhelming majority of his attempts are fadeaway jumpers? And for all of Michael Beasley's potential, he appears most at ease when lofting jumpers, hardly making himself a tough cover. So why wouldn't you put an overwhelming focus on Wade, be it with zones, traps or double teams, when there isn't a single player in the Heat's starting lineup who otherwise commands extra attention?"

  • Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post: "In Tuesday night's game against Toronto, Carmelo Anthony received a pass on the right wing and cruised by his defender, thanks to a Stonehenge pick set by Renaldo Balkman. A hard, crossover dribble was Melo's key to unlock the key. Once in the lane, he Adrian Peterson-ed a pair of post players, soared toward the rim and then, in one midair motion, yanked the ball down waist-high and flung up a backwards, no-look layup. It's good! And the foul! On this singular play, Melo did everything that's epitomized Denver's success so far. He got into the paint, got the layup to drop, got to the foul line. ... George Karl suggested his team has achieved 30 layups in 80 percent of the games. Moreover, Denver (8-3) is sixth in the conference with 41.4 points in the paint per game. And here's the big one. The Nuggets are first in the NBA with 26.7 free throws made per game, more than three made free throws per game than any other team."

  • Michael Lee of The Washington Post: "Brendan Haywood said his increased rebounding, scoring and shot-blocking numbers this season are a direct correlation to playing a career-best 33.8 minutes. 'That's big because it helps me from a mental aspect. If I go out there and I know I'm going to play 30 minutes, it gives you confidence, because you feel your coach has confidence in you. You don't have to go out there pressing,' said Haywood, who is averaging 10.9 points. 'Not trying to speak negatively about anyone, but in previous years, I was playing like I had to make something happen. If it didn't happen in the first five minutes I felt like I had to do something or I might not play in the second half. That's a tough way to play. Now, it's a little bit different. I think Flip has confidence in me and I benefit from it.' Before his breakthrough season in 2007-08, Haywood often would complain about how he was utilized, as former coach Eddie Jordan often called on Etan Thomas, believing that he could provide a more physical presence. The competition with Thomas often became personal and ugly, as they exchanged blows at least three times, fighting in the locker room and on the practice court."

  • Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press: "One of the common questions I've been getting from readers recently is what happens when shooting guard Rip Hamilton returns from his severely sprained right ankle. The worry is that it might upset the chemistry of the Pistons' three-guard offense, which has worked well early this season. The unspoken question is whether Ben Gordon will respond well to returning to the sixth-man role he occupied before Hamilton's injury. Gordon, who is averaging 21.1 points per game, doesn't appear to have a gigantic ego -- unlike the guy who was here last season and just left the Memphis Grizzlies. Of course, Gordon, who was going through a 4-for-12, 11-point performance Wednesday, might have been singing a different tune if he had been having a great shooting night. But he appeared sincere and not just politically correct. 'I had been sitting for a while,' Gordon said. 'Towards the end of the game, (Kuester) gave me look a few times. I guess he was thinking about putting me in, but at that time, the flow of the game was in our favor, so I think he just decided to keep those guys out there. I thought it was a good move.' " And that's a good attitude for maintaining a harmonious locker room."

  • Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: "Michael Redd said the Bucks can’t take their impressive start for granted, and he cautioned that not too much can be inferred from a nine-game stretch. 'Shhhh, don’t tell anybody,' Redd said. 'We’re trying to keep it hush-hush around here, man. We’re staying humble and working hard every day still. We realize that we’ve got a long way to go. I remember a couple years ago we were in first place in March (in 2001-’02), and we were out of the playoffs the next month. The good thing about being young is we don’t know any better. The young guys don’t realize how hard it is. But we’ll learn on our way throughout the season and continue to get better.' "

  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: "Rockets center David Andersen began following the Hawks several seasons ago, when they began their rise in the Eastern Conference. It seemed like a good idea to know about the team he would join, or he might have just been curious. Either way, he believed he was ready to make the jump to the NBA, and the Hawks held his draft rights. Andersen was the 37th player chosen in the 2002 draft. Andersen's arrival in Atlanta was delayed until tonight, when he arrives with the Rockets. But he had no complaints. 'It's another game, so you want to win,' said Andersen, whose rights were traded to the Rockets in July. 'Obviously, it was my draft team. I'm not too emotional about it. It was close a couple times, I suppose. I hoped that one day it would happen. The way things worked out, the trade happened and I ended up in Houston, so that was a good thing.' "

  • Bob Finnan of The News-Herald: "Even though he's probably led every team on which he's ever played in scoring, don't ever confuse LeBron James with being a high-volume chucker. James, the Cavaliers' all-time leading scorer, is averaging a career-low 18.1 shots per game this season. And, don't equate that with being a bad thing. He's averaging his customary 28.3 points per game, third best in the NBA. If he doesn't have to do it all for the Cavs (8-4), they will likely have a better chance to win. 'I've always been an efficient player,' James said. 'This is a year where I haven't had to take as many shots. It just happens. The only thing I'm conscious of was making the right plays at the end of the game.' "

  • Tom Moore of PhillyBurbs.com: "Samuel Dalembert empathizes with Elton Brand. The minutes of the Sixers' two starting big men have fluctuated greatly, ranging from 14 to 35 for Dalembert and 19 to 42 for Brand, in the season's first 11 games. But even while he was logging a season-low 14 minutes and sitting out the final 16:26 during Wednesday's 86-84 victory over the Bobcats, Dalembert couldn't help but smile on the bench because of Brand's breakout performance. ... 'I'm just happy that EB was able to come out there and hold it down for us,' said Dalembert after Thursday's practice. 'He was like a beast out there. That was great. I was excited about it. It's been tough. We laugh about it. We still go out and do what we can do in a short period of time, in the minutes we play. Coach (Eddie Jordan) kind of let him be himself out there. He made some things happen.' "

  • Doug Smith of the Toronto Star: "Seems Chris Bosh has an ego after all. And it's driving him. 'Every day I turn on the TV and they're talking about guys, especially my draft class, '03 draft class, and this and that,' he said. 'They keep bringing up all these and I never hear my name, unless I'm like second honourable mention or something like that. I got tired of that. I don't even think people know I've made all-star teams or know what I've done in this league.' This is the new -- vastly improved -- Bosh talking, a guy with more consistent determination, greater bulk and numbers that place him among the very best in the NBA right now."

  • Joe Freeman of The Oregonian: "Andre Miller tumbled onto the Rose Garden floor, grimacing as he rolled over on his back and cupped his hands around his ankle. Moments later, the Trail Blazers' starting point guard limped off the court and plopped down in the middle of the team's bench, prompting athletic trainer Jay Jensen to meander over and inquire about his health. 'But he didn't want to hear it,' Jensen says, recalling their conversation during a game against the San Antonio Spurs earlier this month. 'I wanted to get him to walk down the hall and get him back (to my office) and see what was going on. But he wouldn't have it. He said, 'I'm fine. Don't mess with me.' ' Welcome inside the mind of the NBA's Iron Man. Miller enters tonight's matchup against the Golden State Warriors having played in 543 consecutive games, the longest active streak in the NBA. Thanks to a bulldog-like tenacity, conservative diet and countless naps -- yes, naps -- the 11-year veteran has managed to miss just three games during his NBA career."

  • Jonathan Abrams of The New York Times: "The basic pick-and-roll is the bread and butter of the N.B.A., with two teammates working in conjunction on offense, with one player dribbling the ball and the other standing still and trying to block the path of the ball handler’s defender. As all hoopsters know, once the pick, or screen, is carried out, the ball handler can pursue several options: pass the ball to his teammate who set the pick and is now rolling toward the basket or another space on the floor; take a shot himself; drive to the basket; or pass the ball to another teammate who may be open. 'When it comes down to it, that’s what we’re going to be in when the game’s on the line,' Magic Coach Stan Van Gundy said of basketball’s most reliable play. 'I say it all the time: I don’t care how good you are, you can’t take away everything.' The pick-and-roll is the play of choice for some of the league’s best players, like New Orleans’s Chris Paul, Phoenix’s Steve Nash, Miami’s Dwyane Wade and Cleveland’s LeBron James. The league’s dependence on the play is steadily increasing, according to a five-year analysis by Synergy Sports Technology, which logs every N.B.A. game, providing analytics to nearly every team. Use of the pick-and-roll rose to 18.6 percent of the league’s total plays last season from 15.6 percent in 2004-5, when Synergy began tracking it."